Augusta, GA (SportsNetwork.com) - World Golf Hall of Fame members Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player opened the 79th Masters with their ceremonial tee shots at Augusta National Thursday morning.

The tradition of honorary starters at the Masters dates to 1963. The three former champions, who combined to win 13 Masters titles, struck their tee shots at the par-4 opening hole.

Nicklaus, 75, Palmer, 85, and Player, 79, teed off just before 7:40 a.m. ET, while Charley Hoffman and Brian Harman officially opened the season's first major soon after. Palmer appeared and hit his tee shot despite an injured shoulder.

Play began under sunny conditions with temperatures in the upper 60s. There are thunderstorms in the forecast the first two days, with morning rain possible on Saturday as well. Sunday's forecast is for temperatures in the upper 70s with plenty of sun.

Defending champion and world No. 3 Bubba Watson will play alongside 2013 U.S. Open champion Justin Rose and 2014 U.S. Amateur winner Gunn Yang for the first two rounds. Watson, who also won the 2012 Masters, closed with a 3-under 69 last year to defeat Jordan Spieth and Jonas Blixt.

World No. 1 Rory McIlroy is paired with three-time Masters winner Phil Mickelson and Ryan Moore at 10:41 a.m. McIlroy comes in as the reigning British Open champion and PGA Championship winner. He would complete the career grand slam with a victory this week.

Tiger Woods returns to the Masters after missing last year's tournament due to back surgery. Woods has played just two events this year. He missed the cut in Phoenix and withdrew from the Farmers Insurance Open. The four-time Masters champion is in the penultimate group at 1:48 p.m. with Jimmy Walker and Jamie Donaldson.

The annual Par 3 contest was won by Kevin Streelman. He starts his opening round at 8:51 a.m. ET with Blixt and Stephen Gallacher. Watson's group is three groups later at 9:24 a.m.

A word of warning to Streelman: no Par 3 winner has triumphed at the Masters the same year.